Saturday, May 21, 2005

Run To Ranong / Made It To Here

Run To Ranong

Unless you've got special star status, an appointment with the princess, or a six month work visa, you've got to make the 'visa run' every thirty days if you want to remain in the country. Minimally, you can cross over a border into any adjacent country, then return immediately. Good to go. Another month.

One could go anywhere in the world, even the International Space Station, but here the closest choices are Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, or Myanmar. From the Isthmus of Kra, our closest choice is Myanmar, a trip made twice so far, whereupon entry our party was immediately descended upon by a crowd of begging children and viagra and valium peddling young men with opium eyes, kicking the asses of the urchins competing for our attention. A carton of cigs for 200 baht in Burma, same same five bucks.

The two-hour one way trip is a leisurely day away from the work site, but 'at the end of the day,' as the Aussies are keen to say, the trip ends up requiring a full day's patience, as any traveling can be for an Oversized, Supersized American double XL ass in a Thai bus or motor chariot, whereas one often will see a 'Thai Family Of Five On a Honda', and just yesterday at Cape Pakarang camp, there must've been 40 Thai off-loading out of the back of a tinyass Isuzu truck.

That's just the way it is, same same the impracticality of lace-up shoes in a culture of flip flops, where footgear is left on the doorstep of all homes and most businesses, and where constantly wet feet and sand are a fact of life, like gumbo on the rez.

Down at one of the reconstruction sites where Thai workmen were shoveling up another batch of concrete, the sea waves breaking behind them, just for chuckles I asked them, "Where you guys getting your sand?"

For a buried crab, the whole universe is sand, inna?


After five solid days of rain without a speck of sun, this week the god of intermittant torrential downpour let off in preparation for Buddha's birthday and our ceremonial launching of the first boat out of the boat house. After a prayer offering, flowers, incense and brightly colored silk scarves tied to the bow, and hefted onto the launch ramp by two dozen Thai, Burmese, and a few volunteers, the blue boat 'Hope' slid down into the small canal to the delight of two or three hundred there for the photo op and the following beach party that ran late into the night with multinational karaoke blaring away, big feed, and beer under an almost full moon.

"Forty-one to go," said project manager Scott in a celebratory high-five, grinning with tears in his eyes, wanting a cold beer, still dripping wet from planting the the forward end of the ramp in the canal, up to his chin in tidal water while seven others set the ramp just finished a minute ago, at 6:05, for the six o'clock launching, so they said, that happened closer to seven.

Whathisname gets the boat. The guy that 'Yeshua Nate', the guy with the three-foot long dreadlocks, rides around with in his side car, along with the four kids who survived the tsunami. Sorry I can't give you his name. He lost his wife, a son, and a leg. And his fishing boat. Comes around the boathouse on one leg and a crutch, bringing his kids and Nate, who, spreading his peace and love and open use of ganja, manages to repeatedly demonstrate how to take one step forward, three steps back, helping drive that nail in just a little bit further with a two-pound sledgehammer until the board splits.

I had to smile and say politely, "Thank you, Nate. Thank you for doing that," instead of saying like I did last week, "Why the fuck did you do that? Why did you keep pounding on that son of a bitch until it broke? Come down off the ladder, Nate. Put the hammer down."

I caught myself talking to him as one would a small child. The tone of a dad to a five year-old son in a machine shop. How arrogant of me to presume any knowledge of carpentry. What lacking of humilty to stop a saint from undoing three days work with his new skill saw toy.

The strong language required an apology, to which he replied,"No problem. It's forgotten," just like a puppy.

After witnessing the hurt in his face, his eyes reddening and plunging him into a momentary sinkhole of sadness, it appeared the Burmese boatbuilders had a better approach. They stopped him by using sign language, waving their hands and shaking their heads and taking their power tools out of his hands.

All without saying a word. Amazing. The non-verbal body language said, 'No. Don't. Don't tighten that bar clamp for us. Don't hit that. Don't do that. Don't use the planer on our boat. Stop.' They never asked him to get out of their way, or to stop climbing around in the boat they were trying to build.


How do those elephants manage to stay off the road? Most of the time they're grazing freely when I pass them each day, sometimes with their looks to be Burmese trainers aboard, lumbering down the side of the road in single file, clomping along with their heavy, steady gait, suprisingly fast. When the wave hit, people say the elephants took a bunch of children to higher ground, and took off to the mountains with tourists aboard, ignoring their trainers.

All the animals made it, people say. No cats found. No dogs among the dead. Just people. 'Tsunami Dog', adopted by the family that runs the restaurant where we lunch, lost his former family and lays around in the road, looking to get hit, it looks like. The chicken-on-a-stick lady who drives the charcoal vendor on wheels with a sidecar, gives him gizzards every day. Apart from laying in the road, disinterested in the swerving trucks and motorcycles, he seems happy for the gizzards and to be alive.


During a break in the boathouse construction when the power 'went down', as it does nearly each afternoon, Mr. 'K' said, "C'mon. I show you my farm."

We went for a ride to the southern end of the cape with Eeb and another Muslim guy who always wears a face mask around the boathouse. We passed another devastated resort just in the process of being rebuilt, onto his land, a grove of coconuts littered with sea and building debris.

You have to listen to him closely. He's speaking English.

"My rest-a-rant, here," he points at a foundation remains. Hard to imagine what it looked like. Something like a postcard setting, I suppose. Setting sun, tropical paradise, restaurant, dive shop, coconut palms, tailor shop, tour guide...

He lost all his businesses, his son, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and several employees. Already told you. What does it matter, the numbers? On the job, you'd never know. Just like the guy with one leg to whom the first boat was given. You'd never know until they tell you. Or someone else tells you.

He told me twice, making certain that I understood, although I wondered how he could know. "Right here," he said with a detached nonchalance, as if identifying a nighttime constellation, pointing to a spot of ground fifty yards from the beach where the waves crashed on the beach. "My son. He made it to here."

- end

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Whose Refugee Where

Whose Refugee Where

No need for moisturizer down here. Nobody complaining of cracked and dry skin. Open sores and raw skin ulcers, yes, but not dry skin.

Just missed a torrential downpour, warm and dry at the cafe Arthit, the system up, then down, now up again after a second cup of strong coffee. A mere splattering upon leaving the jungalow, south to Lam Kaen for petro in a drizzle, log truck spray up the mountain, sunshine at the top, then ominous black clouds coming back down the other side.

Nodding at the impenetrable torrent lashing at the street, "A nice day for the beach," said Kathy, the wife of Kirt, ceramic water filter makers from the north of Thailand seven years and previously from, I had to pry it from them, Colorado, embarrassingly, yes, I could have guessed, Boulder, no shit? yes, before that. Then Portland. Yes, I could have guessed.

Eventually, the propulsion toward revelation would have emerged naturally, but then, who knew how long the rain would last. Forgive me for asking.

Waiting for the system to pop back up, they gave me a quick run-down offering under the outside awning on what they're doing for the refugees, to counteract any stereotypical impression that may have been formed by their admitting their time spent in Boulder.

And weren't the summer music festivals in Lyons just wonderful?

Once you've acheived, or ascended Boulder and explored its multitudinous transcendental higher healing holistic helping therapies, then where can you go to feel good about yourself? Aspen? Costa Rica? South of France? Nepal? Northern Thailand? The Rez? There must be someplace.

Michael, from Belgium, says Morroco. Festival in the Desert.

Maybe the International Space Station.

And the t-shirt that says, 'I've been to the International Space Station, and You Haven't.'


Digger says we should initiate a Mexican infrastructure. Start up a Mexican restaurant, which is badly needed here, and before you'd know it, they'd be competing with the Burmese over jobs, the low-paying and menial nature of which the Thai refuse.

"Same same U.S. America," we tell the Thai when they talk about the influx of Burmese.

A huge vaccum would be felt in every American city north of the Rio Grande. Tens of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans immigrating to Thailand with their extended families, Spanish replacing English as the lingo of commerce.

Enchiladas, Burritos, and Tex Mex.

"You should tell Lupe," said Digger. "The weather's about the same. Lots of low-paying jobs. They'd love it."


I should tell you something about the projects.

There's the housing, the major efforts toward housing the thousands of displaced people. There's three that are directly affilated with the Vol. Ctr., I think, then others up and down the line, run by Thai, Japanese, and the 'Happy Clapper' Southern Babtists, as they are dubbed by the Europeans, from Oklahoma or South Carolina or somewhere, who always occupied a table for twelve or more at the restaurants and wore yellow T-shirts proclaiming their volunteer service and their faith. Big brown cross on the back.

They managed to piss off people from a number of nations around the world with their prosletizing, Bibical analogies, impatient pushy Jesus, and guilt trip in the busom of a billion buddhas, telling orphans the reason their parents are gone is because they failed to accept Christ in their lives.

"It seems exploitative with ulterior motives attached to the help," said Myra. "If their God is so weak he can't control the universe without their active help, then I'm not interested."

And the Mormons are starting a church down in Phuket, the advance team said. And a family of four Quakers, or Amish, pity the kids, all of ém wearing that hot, black, long, traditional garb, settled into Lam Kaen refugee camp, Helen said in astonishment, going to try to make it on 20 baht a day, Digger said.

"It takes a minimum of 600 baht to renew your visa," said Mel. "Per person. What will they do in thirty days? They'll be kicked out of the country."

They planned to come here and live in the camps with the refugees. "Don't they know the camps are for the refugees?" she asked.

Maybe they are.


Then there's the arts & crafts project, the English language project, beach clean-up, landscaping, the wood shop, underwater diving cleanup, the web site, the big, 4 Kali community development project organized by some people who lost their daughter, and the boathouse/boatyard/boatshed project at Pakarang.

You can't really call it a boatshed. Some call it a cathedral, and others call it many things. As having 'funding up the ass', as James said yesterday, this long-term and ongoing project (as many are) was established early after The Wave with independent funding from a variety of sources with the intention of rebuilding the three dozen fishing boats lost in the immediate area.

"Just remember one thing," I was forever telling Terry, from Austrailia, with actual, measurable carpentry skills, in a British-accented language he could understand. "You're not building Her Majesty's Royal Buckingham Palace."

To which Terry would reply, "You're not building the fucking Taj Mahal."

It's been called that, too. The Taj Mahal. Lots of people have asked when we're going to finish it.

We've got Thai and Burmese boatbuilders working alongside us since the roof, and T-shirts I'll show you later, and a web site. Three bays with three boats going, one painted and complete, and all sorts of folks coming around to check it out.

"This is my house," I told those people from Seattle, who emerged slowly from their rented land rover like they all do, eyeing the massive, impressive structure sitting in the bay of the Cape, and addressing me, probably because of my size, obvious foreigner, smile, and recognition of their arrival. Upon prior inquiry they most probably had been told to speak with the project manager, Scott, from North Carolina.

"Scott?"they ask.

"I've got three boats in my living room right now," I told them, "but that's only temporary. They'll be out of here soon."

When they realize I'm just bullshitting, I tell them, "You'll probably want to talk with Scott, the project manager. I'm just the applied physics consultant."

- end

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Everything Bass Ackward

Everything Bass Ackward

I finally realized why all those Thai were yelling at me, and why every day those maniac motorists were swerving all over the road, honking and flashing their lights. They were all driving on the wrong side of the road!

First of all, everything's ass backwards; the sentence structure, the shower hose on the bottom of the toilet tank so you have to lean wayyyy the hell over to get your hair and back, and the traffic. You look over to the left-hand lane, and there's people going in the same direction, but in my lane, there's oncoming traffic passing on either side, a bit unnerving, especially the buses and concrete trucks.

Just hold a straight line, they say. No wonder I perceived it as so chaotic.

- end

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Angry Dragon Wring Out The Sky

Wring Out The Sky

No wonder why the houses are set upon stilts. The monsoon has begun, last night in torrents, then cats and dogs, bringing down huge tree limbs, branches and leaves on the road, then slowing to a downpour this morning, offering a chance to escape the bungalow with the ponds filled to overflow and precipitously approaching our steps. Ponchos and rain slickers in high demand. Good days for reading or watching somebody's playoffs, if you have a tv.

Thai workmen at the hydraulic controls of three enormous Japanese Komatsu praying mantis digging machines on tracks have spent three weeks scooping out red dirt, then gray clay to excavate the ponds near our bungalow to accomodate the water needs of the refugee camp atop the hill, an ant-line succession of dump trucks carting off the soupy mix, leaving a muddy red tire trail out onto the highway and the road to our bungalow as a cratered nerve-wracking challenge. After being near sucked dry, the ponds are now filled from two days of steady rain.


A couple of weeks ago I asked Kong what the monks at the temple had to say about the tsunami and the shocking loss of life here at Khao Lak.

"Angry dragon," he replied with a nervous laugh, then went on to say "It's natural," making a circular, winding motion with his index fingers of the earth turning.

With the onset of the rainy season, the sea has churned itself up into a turbulent greenish gray froth pounding the shoreline, doing little to dispell the belief among the Thai that the souls lost to the sea are seeking company to join them in afterlife, since the death last week, week before of the Thai solider in the waves, and the drowning yesterday of another Thai citizen, out in the water at the wrong time, the wrong season, the wrong weather.

Mother's Day

Someone just said something about emailing mothers for Mother's Day. Easy to lose track of such holidays. Happy Mother's Day, all you moms out there, and all the surrogate moms and godmothers who've adopted animals or the children of others.


- end

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just From The Waist Up

Just From The Waist Up

About a month ago, Kong showed me his passport, an unsmiling man with shaven head and sapphron robe. He had the look of a refugee from a totalitarian regime. He'd said earlier that he'd been in the monastery, ten years, but it looked like a recent photo.

And a couple of weeks ago at dinner, he made a joke about monks engaged in turf wars when he crossed his arms in an authoritarian manner, cocked his head back and asked in gruff condescension, "So, howwwww long have YOU been in the monastery?"

That was just after we witnessed a dog starting some shit outside the restaurant with another trespassing canine, running him off, then pissing on the boundaries of the perimeter he was defending.

Kong brought it to our attention there at the table, then pantomimed the hypothetical monks, bringing together his two hands like chattering teeth, sniping back and forth at one another.

He'd evidently spent enough time to know the politics and pecking order of a monastery.

So it sort of caught me by suprise when yesterday morning I saw him pulling into the parking lot of a beauty parlor some 25 k. from here, across from the turnoff to Cape Pakarang where the boat house project is located. He told me was going to see his girlfriend.

"GIRLFRIEND!!???" I asked in astonishment, shouting with angry Head Monk authority, "A MONK CANNOT!"

Behind his wrap-around sunglasses, he laughed and said, "I am a monk only from the waist up."

- end

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What Would It Be

What Would It Be

And then
What would it be
to see the world
and ourselves
outside our skin

I gave a walking monk
a ride today
and he rode awhile
about a mile
then tapped me lightly
signaling his stop

- end